Con Artist

Directed by Michael Sladek

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Con Artist still

US, 2010, 84 min

From the beginning, Mark Kostabi pronounced his raison d'être as an artist widely: to take all the cash and all the glory. A superstar during the frantic glory of the 1980s New York art world, Kostabi has unapologetically signed and sold thousands of paintings made by painters/ laborerswho attest to not having seen Kostabi paint for years. His practice reveals a shrewd critique of valuation in the modern art world, but when his purposeful skewering turned to ruthlessly biting the hands that fed him, he was rapidly jolted from the position of daring darling to the unspeakable persona non grata.

This energetic, punk-fueled docu-comedy traces the meteoric rise and fall of a bizarre visionary and the art market that birthed him, but director Michael Sládek focuses mostly on present-day Kostabi and his obsession with getting back on top. Interviews with art world figures and vintage clips of Kostabi's outlandish television appearances are entertaining and insightful, but Con Artist's best moments come in the abundant tag-along footage Sládek shoots with the artist. While getting as close as one can to a man who's been called "the black hole of irony," Sládek also begs an interrogation into what American culture is based on, and what it takes to pop its bubble.